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How Obama's visit showed Oakland radios' unreliability

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The radio system that began operating in June 2011 was supposed to be a needed upgrade from the previous analog network reputed to have numerous dead zones in some of the most dangerous parts of town.

But the P25 digital system has been even more troublesome, plagued by breakdowns and dead spots that have left officers' vulnerable to blackouts across Oakland and even in many commercial buildings, including the basement of the downtown police headquarters.

An independent report commissioned by City Administrator Deanna Santana's office released last week said the new system needs numerous improvements due to "poor reception, unclear audio and speaker problems."

Santana said Thursday that the urgency to fix the system was prevalent long before Obama's visit.

"Clearly there are some issues for us to address," Santana said. "The urgency is always been one of the issues that's been front and center."

Calls to the U.S. Secret Service to inquire if they were aware about the radio issues were not immediately returned on Thursday.

Donelan said the radio problem, which averages about 500 glitches a month, is another setback in a department that has seen a 30 percent reduction in officers since 2010 and a 20 percent spike in violent crime this year.

"Our officers don't know when or where it's going to work a regular basis," Donelan said. "The failure becomes magnified when the president of the United States is here, but how about the on-duty officer is confronted with an armed suspect, needs some backup and his radio doesn't work? ...That puts the lives of everyone connected in jeopardy."

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